Friday, August 28, 2015

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

I had fully intended to have finished the cross stitch I've been working on and have a post ready for today, alas, I was thwarted in my plans. Though I do have an amazing book to share: 

I am shamed to admit that I had never heard of Lynsey Addario prior to reading about her in Freya's post proclaiming her excitement about the upcoming book. That one sentence, not even a full sentence, mentioned the book with a bit about how she (Addario) balances photojournalism with having a family. The last couple chapters deal with this balance in particular, but the rest of the 341 paged book is jam-packed with Lynsey's beautifully tragic, remarkably courageous and joyfully uplifting journey in the career of photojournalism.

I was completely blown away by this memoir. I cried...a lot. At one point, I even had to close the book for a bit of a breather. And yet her words continued and I was insatiable with my desire to finish this book only hoping that it would magically sprout pages so that I would never be finished. The cliche of living a life through someone else's words were never more true than they were in this book and I am so gratefully glad that I read them from the comfort of my bed and living room.

Lynsey is admirable in her quest for beauty in some of the most tragic circumstances: "It seemed paradoxical to try to create beautiful images out of conflict...Trying to convey beauty in war was a technique to try to prevent the reader from looking away or turning the page in response to something horrible. I wanted them to linger, to ask questions" (190). Her memoir stands as a testament to the truth of this statement.

She is also poetic in her descriptions of the places and people she visits:"Everything that make India the rawest place on earth made it the most wonderful to photograph. The streets hummed with constant movement, a low-grade chaos where almost every aspect of the human condition was in public view" (52).

And, "Mohammed's wrinkled map of a face reflected a lifetime of war, repression, and poverty, and obscured any trace of his youth" (64).

Her description of motherhood left me reeling from its unequivocal accuracy: "My dreams for my child were the same ones that I knew compelled so many women around the world to fight for their families against the most unimaginable odds" (335). What mama bear wouldn't fight to keep their cubs safe?

Coupled with the realization that in motherhood, "somewhere along the way my mortality began to matter" (341). I think there are moments when every mother realizes, one way or another, that their own mortality matters. That there are little people, and some big people, who are dependent on them completely. The situation doesn't have to be as dire as being kidnapped (twice) as Lynsey has, but can merely be a close call in the car or a slip on wet grass.

I loved this book and recommend it wholeheartedly. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Marius Briggs and my aptitude for blankets

Last week, I realized something about myself and my crocheting skills - I'm pretty good at blankets...but not much else.

I tried my hand at the Lalylala pattern for Kira the Kangaroo and, putting it lightly, I butchered the poor pattern. It's terribly disappointing because I love those little creatures. I've tried the pattern a few times and just can't seem to get it right. Then I stared sullenly at my hooks for about three days before hopping back on the horse with a blanket I've been working on for a year or so with very little progress. We're in for a cold spell (hopefully) so I'm anxious to start making blankets again. I've got my eye on this pattern from Alicia Paulson in these colors from Lucy.

Between the crochet debacle and extra crafting projects (mostly hand stitching), I managed to sneak in a few books. Marius Briggs and the Bonnie Pretender is a super short novella at 77 pages long. It's the first book of the Marius Briggs series. It is so inaccurate historically but wildly funny. I read the whole thing in an evening and kept laughing out loud and reading passages to my husband. It tells of the adventures of Marius Briggs, a Scottish privateer, aka pirate, who takes on the responsibility of basically babysitting the Bonnie Prince Charlie. If you know anything about Scottish history then you know that legend has it that in order to escape Great Britain after his failed attempt of stealing the throne, Charlie disguises himself in a dress and flees to France. The authors exaggerate this tidbit into a full-blown farce. For more information and a bit of a review check out this post: Sun's Out, Book's Out! I was completely entertained and would highly recommend it.

Linked to Ginny's Yarn Along 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reflections on Kisses from Katie

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis is remarkable story of courage and kindness. I admire Katie's faith and her work ethic. She has a big heart and showers love on everyone she meets. I would like to meet her someday and thank her for all the work she has and is doing. I would like to be more like her too, filled with charity and say "yes" to the Lord regardless of what He asks of me and to be thankful, as Katie is, that He does not let me have control.

"I am so thankful that God in His grace does not allow me to win. Because usually the fight is not really about what He is asking me to do...It is about me trying to figure out just how much control I have over my own little life. At this point, not much." (227)

After a brief visit to Uganda over the Christmas holidays, Katie returns to make the red dirt land her permanent home. Not only does she begin a non-profit organization in order to provide opportunities for education to hundreds of underprivileged  Ugandan children but she also provides them with basic medical care. Many of the children in Uganda suffer from one disease or another, including scabies that burrow into their feet, lay eggs, and leave open sores. Treatment is usually quite simple but for one reason or another too many families are going without medical aid of any kind. Heck, even a bath is a luxury for most children. I considered this thought as I bathed my own children in a clean, white, porcelain tub where water magically comes from a temperature controlled faucet and happy smelling shampoo is applied to clean the dirt and food from their faces and bodies. I don't know how a shampoo can smell happy but this one does. I wrap them in a warm, dry, hooded towel and sing a little song. They get into their clean pajamas, snuggle into their clean sheets, on their own mattresses with their stuffed animal friends snoozing beside them. That scene alone makes us more blessed than almost all the children in Uganda. And I take it for granted every single time. It is not a luxury for our family, it's just part of our routine. Our routine also includes three square meals a day filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, typically with snacks eaten in between.

We recently bought new shoes for the girls, and we spent a little more than usual because if you buy cheap you get cheap, and I want these shoes to last because they have to. According to US standards, my family is well below the poverty line; however, after reading Katie's book I realized that for me (and this directly applies to me and my family and no one elses) the idea of poverty is my own invention. I am able to work and provide food and water and baths and clothes and new shoes to my children (maybe the last three don't happen every day but still, they are provided for). I am able to wrap them up tight in their blankets and not worry about mosquitoes biting them all night and giving them malaria. They receive routine immunizations to prevent diseases from ravaging their bodies. Their health alone makes me wealthy and with the addition of everything else, I am rich beyond measure. I am so blessed and grateful and should remember that more often. 

The wonderful and amazing thing about Katie is her faith that the Lord will provide. I am jealous of her faith. A single drop of her faith could move mountains. Through the grace of God, Katie heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and teaches all those willing to listen. I value her honesty as she states often throughout her book that she is not perfect, none of us are, but she listens to the Lord and follows his promptings. By doing so, she is often found in hard places, helping those who need it most and sacrificing when it looks like she has nothing left to give.

"God has a way of using inadequate people and sometimes He calls us to reach a little higher or stretch a little further, even when we feel we can't do it anymore." (109).  

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Wookie cross stitch Reloaded

When May 4th rolled around, I posted about the Wookie cross stitch. At the time, it was a work in progress, but I was so excited to share and got a bit ahead of myself by posting anyway. I am really glad that I did because I have learned a lot about my creative process and my own expectations when it comes to making things.

As I had said in the original post, I loved working with the cross stitch but then struggled with the quilting part. Quilting is challenging. Cutting is challenging. Being able to recognize that something needs to change in order for the vision in my head to become a reality is challenging. So much changed about this little quilt. Because my vision wasn't quite matching reality, my instincts were telling me to scrap the whole project. My own little Wookie kept begging me to finish so I powered through, but not without making some changes.

The "original-ish" quilt had a couple of problems: The binding was too small, which is my own fault for not paying attention to the seam allowance; the quilting was uneven which made the back bunch awkwardly; and I had sewn several "layers" of a log cabin effect using two contrasting fabrics. I didn't like the contrast at all.

So I removed the binding, ripped out the quilting, and started again. The finished product is still a bit flawed, but I, and more importantly Wookie, love it. It can be hung on the wall, but right now she has a little "Wookie corner" on the top of the dresser so it's hanging out with the rest of her ever-growing collection.

For me this project seemed to epitomize my whole experience with crafting. I'm a novice. An impatient novice at that. I see what other people can do and I expect that just by looking at an image that I can replicate what many of these women have spent many many years working toward. I need to slow down and appreciate the process of making, for the sake of making.

Each project has specific phases and each phase exhibits a variety of emotions. The exciting planning phase (I love planning and planners so for me this is the most exciting phase), the joyful stitching phase, the cathartic cutting phase, the mandatory piecing phase, the not-quite-right phase, the disheartening ripping phase, the hopeful rebuilding phase, and the hallelujah!! it's finished phase. Each phase is equally necessary to building a craft. You may not experience the same emotions for the same phase of different projects, because each project is unique. What does apply universally (at least for me) is to take the time to really focus and work out the kinks to create a treasure that you (and the recipient) love.

I'm a rush-rush-rush kind of lady, always pushing for that end result, but I'm learning to slow down and really enjoy each phase. I'm also working on recognizing that if I don't like something, it's perfectly alright to change the plan. By being open-minded and evaluating each phase, I can save myself from ripping the work apart, and ultimately come to love the finished item as well as the process of making it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Wrinkle in Time (and playing hooky)

"Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself."

Hot on Antonia's heels, I read the much beloved A Wrinkle in Time. I needed a bit of youthful escapism after the depth and breadth of My Antonia. I read it one evening, like I used to do as a teen, and loved it as much as I did when I read it the first time many years ago. I found the escapism I was looking for, but also stumbled upon bigger, more intense questions and answers than I remember.

The darkness of sameness and a lack of responsibility ultimately being detrimental to society hit me hard, especially after my feeling of 'playing the adult'. Of course I'm glad to be responsible for all the little people in my life and of course I really do like having decisions to make. Visualizing the opposite of choice as portrayed on Camazotz was frightening and poignant (especially after having watched "The Winter Soldier" the day before). It all had a very "big brother" feel. I am so grateful for my agency and hope to use it for the benefit not detriment of society.  

It had been a long, long time since I had picked up my hooks at all. Summer has been ridiculously hot and the idea of my sweaty hands playing with yarn made me cringe. But Nins picked up her hooks yesterday and told me that she was making me a scarf for Christmas, so I decided to follow her suit and play around a bit with Christmas in mind.

Linked up to Ginny's Yarn Along 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sweet 'n' Sour

T'other night we had the most amazing sunset! The sky literally looked like it was on fire. My first gut reaction was - 'holy crap it's the apocalypse' - and my second reaction was to grab the camera. It was just so beautiful -- so much so that we pulled Nins out of bed and made her watch as the rain began to fall. The combination of dark gray sky mixed with bright orange that swiftly transitioned to pink and purple was mesmerizing and I snapped away in the rain trying to capture on camera what my eyes were seeing.

The sunset reminded me that life is sweet; life is good. Oftentimes, I forget the sweetness and dwell heavily on sourness instead. An eternal pessimist, as some would say. It's so easy to get caught on the pity party train that I sometimes unpack my bags and stay for a while. I am trying, some days are more successful than others, to redirect my focus. I need to pull out my rose colored specs and take a stroll about town. A filter isn't always a bad thing.

For perspectives sake, I want to just remind myself of the sweet 'n' sour and how they mix together like the gray and orange of the sunset to produce a beautiful image and a good, good life.

- Oh, the babies! I have had four pregnancies and three babies in four years! Yowza! No wonder my hormones get a bit fritzy now and then. I am so immensely grateful for my children. Each and every one of them teaches me something new about the world and I love getting glimpses of how they think it should and could operate. I am constantly amazed by how they communicate with one another and how I see so many similarities between them yet so many differences. I adore being their mother.

- Constantly moving! None of the aforementioned babies were born in the same city. Wookie and Little Man are 11 months, 2 weeks apart and they were not born in the same city. Let's just have that sink in for a moment. Little Man and Chubs are 2 years apart and even they weren't born in the same city. In those same four years, we have lived in Idaho, Scotland, Idaho again, Virginia and Utah. That's five moves in four years, one trans-Atlantic and one across the country and back again. Phew! I wish I could say that I have loved living in all those places, and I think as time goes I am beginning to realize the blessings we received while there, wherever that may be.

- Glasgow, Glasgow, Glasgow! Always and forever my home will be Glasgow. I may find other homes along the way, but Glasgow was the first place that I was truly stretched and pulled into a better person. Because of Glasgow, I got to go to Paris, and Dublin, and Iceland and fuel my apparently insatiable bug for travel. Because of Glasgow, I have a Master's degree in a fascinating field. Because of Glasgow, I experienced labor au natural, not by choice, mind you, but vowed to do it again (missed the boat with Little Man but managed it with Chubs). Because of Glasgow, I am committed to seeking a path full of wonder and hardness that will refine myself and my family to be forged of invisible steel.

- Virginia Sweet Virginia. VA is always calling my name only to spit me right back out again. I spent an academic year at a small, rural liberal arts college in the pink bubble of VA. It was an interesting and intense time filled with magic and charm, monsters and chaos. For one reason or another, I chose not to return. Fast forward 6 years: Sweet Virginia called me back only to eject me after three months. We experienced a lot in those few, short months: We traveled to DC, Chesapeake Bay, and explored the city of Richmond.

- Debt reduction. Without going into too many details, we have been able to pay off debt. By the grace of God, we have managed to stay afloat financially through unemployment, more schooling, underemployment, and possibly even more schooling. Not only have we stayed afloat but we have reduced some of our debts. We are eternally grateful to each and every person who has ever helped us out financially. Someday, I hope to repay the kindness.

- Presently! I live in a state I had vowed growing up I would never ever in a million years live. Here, I have been stretched in a lot of ways too, admittedly though, it often feels like flattening rather than stretching. I have been humbled. I have been terrified. I have been defeated. I am slowly being brought back up (I hope). I'm sure I'm learning something but since I'm in the thick of it, I'm still not sure what that lesson is or more accurately lessons are yet. Maybe in a few years, I'll look back on my time here and smile. After all Mr. Chubs-man was born here and that is definitely a thing to smile about.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Reading My Antonia

I had never read My Antonia. It wasn't a book I read in high school, college, or grad school, so I'm coming at it with fresh, unbiased and unforced eyes. In other words, I am loving it. It is so very fitting for my mindset lately and the imagery is nothing short of heavenly. The landscape is as much a character as Antonia or Jim. Work and play are interwoven and in my heart of hearts I wish to have that type of lifestyle for my family. It's not without hardships, but it's also full of pure, unadulterated joy.

Willa Cather writes beautifully and evokes so much peace and tranquility even within Antonia's hardships. Cather gets humans. She gets their nature and is able to portray characteristics that I found I could relate to perfectly though I've never been to Nebraska or lived on a farm. My Antonia speaks accurately about the human experience: the sadness, the joy, the insecurities, the mistakes, the redemption.

 "It must have been the scarcity of detail in that tawny landscape 
that made detail so precious."

This book raised questions of what it means to live a fulfilling life and how do we choose to remember the past. Is it romanticized? Absolutely. For myself whenever life feels stagnant my immediate reaction is to flip through photos of our time in Glasgow. I've romanticized our time there because it was such a stretching, growing, challenging, and wonderful chapter of our lives. But I had miserable moments there too.

My Antonia also takes a round-about look at the future. So much changed in such a seemingly short amount of time from the moment Jim and Antonia step foot off the train to the final promise Jim makes to Antonia's boy. He's found his path and he's sticking to it. Choosing the right path isn't always easy. We don't ever have all the variables, which makes decision making a giant pain in the rump, but it's also what makes the mess potentially exciting. For me, it feels like my whole adult life has been one major decision after another, and most of the time I feel like I'm a toddler playing dress up, when if fact, I actually have toddlers who do play dress up.

Of course, I couldn't read this novel and forget to mention hard work and perseverance. Nothing comes easy, except perhaps the trials; poor Antonia just doesn't seem to be able to get her feet under her, until the very end. The success stories are the ones least likely to be labelled: success. The whole novel could be chalked up to one long lesson of the hardships of life and the brevity of the quiet, unhurried moments. However, in those tranquil moments, the world stops and peace prevails.